I fell in love with this video because it represents the duality that many Black gamers operate within: a calm tranquil gaming experience that is often abruptly interrupted by ignorance. And then after the lash out towards whatever the event was, a return to normalcy.
What’s significant is that many Black gamers normalize these experiences (online) and always assume characters and avatars won’t have any connection to Blackness.
I typically use the secondary definition of punish in examining this phenomenon: to treat someone in an unfairly harsh way; unfairly disadvantage, maltreatment. In this sense, punishment is used to describe the mistreatment of Black characters by not fully developing them, by representing them singularly, etc. Online, punishment is as you stated, implying discipline. Any gamer that deviates from the White male norm is punished. Women are punished. People of color are punished. Sexual minorities are punished. They are punished because they have to endure being limited and relegated to a small aspect of their identity within the space. Even more problematic, they are relegated to the derogatory form of the perceived self: bitch, fag, nigger, etc. Because they ‘sound’ different, they are subject to extreme forms of harassment.
Matt, your observations of the differences between Carl of the show and Carl of the comics are spot on and I’d love to see (or do) a cross-media comparison of both versions of Carl in relation to Clementine. (I’m especially interested in how each media form uses different portrayals of age and gender in relation to “child” characters to evoke what Paul Booth calls “transmedia pathos,” which both links and differentiates each node of the franchise without being bound to the narrative restrictions of transmedia storytelling.) In the context of this post, I felt the comparison to TV Carl was apt because of the way this trailer imposes a particularly cinematic/televisual tool (the flashback to pre-zombie Clementine) to evoke nostalgia for her girlhood innocence at a crucial point in the player’s in-game decision making…a tool that the show could absolutely use in relation to Carl but chooses not to. (Perhaps in part because, beyond certain expectations around character gender, viewers aren’t directly, morally implicated in what Carl does thereafter? A thread worth pursuing further…) But a more nuanced consideration of the similarities between Clem and comics Carl is definitely warranted.
But yes, as far as gameplay goes, a paratext like this one is an overt reminder of how the game’s choice mechanics are consistently undermined by the emotionality of its narrative. One of the most interesting choices one can make “as” Clem is to foreground a feigned girlish innocence to deceive new survivors she meets. If you were to pair this line of performance (and is indeed very much a performance, and a fascinating one at that) with the kind of hard-edged ruthlessness/selfishness Clem can enact later in the season, as I have consistently tried to do, not one of the game’s multiple endings can square with “my” Clementine as I’ve tried to play her. The game pushes me back to an essentially nurturing, still-redeemable girl - not my Clementine at all. (Interestingly the trailer, released just before the final episode of the season, gives away how different its version of Clem is from mine, since it features many of the characters I’ve allowed to die in horrible ways much sooner in the game…)
Before taking a class with Dr. Gray, I’d honestly never given a second thought to depictions of race and/or gender within video games. That said, it’s rather incredible how eye-opening even a basic analysis of these depictions can be, as they are (sadly) overwhelmingly present within the industry. While black and brown bodies are often placed into gaming story lines as comedic relief (buffoonery) or as villainous perpetrators, they are also presented within games as negatively animalistic or “native.”
For example, in the recent release of Diablo, all character classes feature a playable white female or white male except for one class: the witch doctor. The witch doctor is a startling contrast to the other classes, as the other characters appear to be strong and poised, if not arrogant, with their heads held high in polished, form-fitting armors. The witch doctor class, in contrast, features constantly hunched-over, panting brown bodies wearing ill-fitting tatters of clothes that are updated throughout the game to include animal bones and exaggerated tribal jewelry. Unfortunately, this is often justified by players as a “tribute” to African ancestral culture. However, these characters (whose physical appearances cannot be customized apart from armors) and the class itself make for a rather unappealing play-through. They are limited by stereotypical “native” dialogue, move sets, and weapons like blow darts, and must often rely on the use of “pets” like spiders and toads to help deal damage equal to what other classes can deal by themselves.
Sadly, it seems that Blizzard once again tried to avoid being labeled as “racist” through character diversity by trying to include a race besides caucasian into the game. However, their diversity strategy seems poorly executed. They gave the brown bodies in their game feral-like qualities that starkly contrast with those of the majority cast of white characters in Diablo III.
Great post! Made a lot of sense and had me thinking like some people you really do not think about things like this until someone brings it up or read about it. It is very true what your blog says with the four ways that blackness is punished by watching people play video games. They always have some kind of set avatars, always in the ghetto and they are never the hero always the bad guy. When watching the video it really did make a point. When a person goes to play a video game and make an avatar the African American is normally the same. I have never experienced any game live that people were actually talking but I can bet other gamer do call African Americans bad names. This needs to change with video games.
I completely understand what this guy was saying in this video. I’ve experienced situations like this several times, people think because your name is something that your okay with being talked to Any kind of way. Which is not true. Not only that people act as if others don’t have feelings in the gaming world which is indeed a problem. I completely agree with the person in this video its more than true with what he said throughout the video. Also i agree with Mrs. Greys points about the four points to how blacks are punished in the gaming world. The thing i thought that stuck out most was the video when he said every game that has a black person has the same 3 hairstyles and skin tones. Why isn’t it games that allow black people to play with characters that look like us? Hey good argument
Jessica, this is thought-provoking for me as a fan of The Walking Dead in its many forms (I have been a long-time reader of the comic, and have engaged in all of the other media produced from it as they’ve come along). I have yet to play any of Season Two from Telltale, so I can’t speak to the game’s portrayal of Clementine at this moment (and no, I didn’t watch the spoiler video), but the relationship between her and Carl in the comics and TV is an interesting dynamic to explore.
I didn’t know that the game designers, for instance, have attributed her innocence to ager more than gender, but it’s interesting to note that the universe(s) of The Walking Dead differ significantly in their portrayals of Carl’s aging as well as in who else is considered powerful within the group. While in the show Carol (a new character) is positioned as more than capable of handling herself and making tough decisions, in the comics it is Andrea who becomes not only a constant strength of the group, but also a core member of its identity, not unlike Rick or Glenn. I’ve always found it interesting that in the show the strong female character was ostracized from the group in both instances, though for different reasons. I also find it intriguing that the innocence the developers seem to be wanting Clementine to hang on to as one of age rather than gender is in direct correlation to Carl in the comics, who really has a tough go of coming into his own and is certainly treated by his father and everyone else in the group (as well as the comic’s plotting) as an innocent child for far longer than he has been on TV.
What I guess I’m getting at is that the gameplay dynamic here, the choice to be innocent or not, seems to be the way around either portrayal of age and gender, though the plot and story certainly retain the emotional elements of traditional relationships between them no matter what your actions are during gameplay as a means of character building. What does it mean to you or other players, then, when the game’s mechanics of choice are actively undone by the emotionality of the narrative?
I really hesitated to say whether I believed any of the queer relations were consciously designed in or out - I think it’s more exciting to think of them as accidental moments of revelation about deploying femininity in particular ways. However, B2 made the queerness fairly explicit, which was the opposite of my worst fears but somehow still managed to ruin a lot of the subversive potential for me. The Wii U seemed an odd choice for this sequel given Nintendo’s family-friendly reputation, but B2 is both tamer and more wild than its predecessor: it seemed to me that there was a lot more profanity, for example, but that the sex was toned down. I do think this is a function of, or at least reflective of, the ways queer desire can easily be recruited into hegemonic signifying regimes. The queerness in the first Bayonetta seemed to break out of these structures, where in B2 it seems to generate them, if that makes sense.
(Sorry, Matt, this was supposed to be threaded in response to your comment)
John, your thoughts on the narrative, temporal, and relational structures of the game are basically in line with mine, though I do look forward to another playthrough when I’m back from NWSA and have time to breathe to confirm/complicate this reading.
I’m stuck on the relationship with Loki right now, as it doesn’t seem straightforwardly motherly to me. There are the Oedipal dimensions, of course, but Loki struck me as a more literal incarnation of the manbaby/Luka (CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT HAT) who is constantly seeking sexual attention from Bayo and pretending that he is all-powerful and an asset to her quest. He is much more powerful than Luka was in the first game, and unlike Cereza he’s less of a burden than an actual ally in terms of gameplay. I wonder if he’s more interesting to look at in terms of tropes of boyhood in gaming - I am reminded of a question Denis Farr asked on Twitter about boys being portrayed as vulnerable in other than coming-of-age contexts in games.
I agree that in general the game is pretty obsessed with reproductive futurity - linking parents and children, redeeming the evil father, passing the torch from one generation to the next, etc, but it’s also pretty twisted - Loki is actually quite ancient and technically the father of all of them, and the time travel stuff queers time in a really surfacey way. But it’s there.
One thing that I think will be really productive to think about is how the gameplay mechanics are so much more polished in this iteration - that was the one thing I felt was a wholesale improvement. Since gameplay mechanics are central to how I interpret queerness in the first game, this feels really significant, but I am not yet in a place to articulate what it might mean. For one, the discussion of Loki above reminds me that he seems to be a mechanism for introducing coop play into the gamic vocabulary of an otherwise solitary experience, whereas Cereza was a standard escort mission figure.
There’s a lot about the reviews of Bayonetta that I find really fascinating. When I was writing my dissertation chapter about her and Chell, I was struck by the way Carol Clover’s description of the reception of I Spit On Your Grave really seemed to parallel what happened with Bayonetta:
“…I Spit on Your Grave provides, for many long stretches of its hour-and-a-half narration, as pure a feminine-masochistic jolt as the movies have to offer. No such possibility is even hinted at in the reviews that led to its condemnation and censorship, however. On the contrary, the film was characterized, in tones of outrage and in the name of feminism, as the ultimate incitement to male sadism, a ‘vile film for vicarious sex criminals, a ‘sleazy exploitation movie’ that ‘makes rapists of us all.’ But there is something off here: something too shrill and totalizing in the claim of misogyny, something dishonest in the critical rewritings and outright misrepresentations of the plot required to sustain that claim, something suspicious about the refusal to entertain even in passing the possibility of involvement with the victim’s part, something perverse about the unwillingness to engage with the manifestly feminist dimensions of the script….” (Men, Women, and Chainsaws 228)
For me, it wasn’t just that the aesthetics of the character were offputting to (usually male-identified) reviewers, but that they really seemed disgusted by her and offended by the suggestion that she is something that they should find attractive. People can’t seem to make up their minds whether she’s supposed to be exploitatively sexy or just plain creepy, but they insist that she is a great example of what is wrong with women in AAA. It is, of course, healthy to maintain suspicion of the “strong female character” in texts, but this is one example where I feel the critique misses many key moments in the text. Part of this could be that the initial shock value prevented people from wanting to engage with her on a deeper level - the first cinematic can be particularly cringe-inducing for some audiences. I’ve been guilty of this in the past.
This is something that I found particularly disappointing in AS’s analysis of the game, though I fully believe in and support the existence of a variety of feminist critiques. Bayonetta really warrants a thorough playthrough to ground analysis - I find it quite rewarding and subtle in many ways.